Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Our Man in Havana

1959 - Dir: Carol Reed
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 26th April, 2008
Our Man in Havana was conceived by Graham Greene as an 'entertainment' picture - all of Greene's familiar ingredients are here - sly wit, intricately plotted melodrama and social squalor lightly topped with a sprinkling of holy water. A snug arrangement between Columbia and Kingsmead, a company Reed had formed himself, provided for financing and distribution. The fall in 1959 of the US puppet dictator Batista proved to be a blessing for Reed and his associates, who were able to secure permission from the victorious rebels to shoot their movie in Havana. Exterior shots were completed over a five week period, with Cubans gawping raptly at the famous Anglo faces and Ernie Kovacs reportedly smoking twenty-five Cuban cigars everyday. Back in England, at Shepperton Studios,about eleven weeks went into interior shots.
· The casting is interesting - Guinness is obviously ideal as the straight man/anti-hero but Burl Ives as a German?..and Maureen O’Hara? Both were obviously imposed as part of the deal with Columbia. Ives gets away with it and plays the doctor sympathetically - but O’Hara seems out of her depth. Her “British” screen credits include “How Green was my Valley” (where she used an Irish accent to pass for Welsh) and “Lady Godiva of Coventry” (where her accent didn’t disappoint as much as the concealing length of her hair did). The inspired casting is that of Noel Coward as an unlikely head of a cell of spies - he gets all the best one liners and is obviously having a whale of a time.
· The film had a big enough budget for the hire of CinemaScope lenses but there wasn’t enough cash to pay for colour film - so it’s wide and wonderful but monochrome!
· The script had to be submitted to Cuba's Minister of the Interior, where it was insisted that 39 changes be made to make it appear that life during the Batista regime was more unfavourable. The hated President Batista, incidentally, retired to the Algarve and became an estate agent - perhaps you bought a time-share from him?
Graham Greene later wrote: “Alas, the film did me little good with the new rulers in Havana. In poking fun at the British Secret Service, I had minimised the terror of Batista's rule. I had not wanted too black a background for a light-hearted comedy, but those who suffered during the years of dictatorship could hardly be expected to appreciate that my real subject was the absurdity of the British agent and not the justice of a revolution”

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